Your Letters are Expected Though

Five years ago, in a new ward, our tiny son took immediately to a man on the front row of the gospel principles class–a wide-armed, rugby player of a man who shook our hand and nearly lifted us off the ground.  He was big and bright and new.  Baptized just a few months before, though schooled in Mormonism for many years.  There was something about Jack’s sincerity and insistence in speaking often about social justice that endeared us to him without reservation.

A couple of years ago Jack started to bring his friend, Vince, to church. Every Sunday Vince wears a black shirt and pants nearly as dark as his skin.  The grandchildren that hold his hands as he walks into sacrament meeting run to hug Jack. Another family has saved them a spot on the bench with them. Vince doesn’t often speak out, but it is clear that he is both gentle and wise with experience as he accepts these offerings with grace.

At Vince’s baptism he spoke about his time in prison and how at a low point he knew he wanted to find God, his sweet family peppering the baptismal room chairs calling out “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!”

A few Sunday’s ago, Vince, who has started a prison ministry program in our ward along with Jack , stood near us in the parking lot holding a letter that arrived in his mailbox the day before.  He is often so quiet in church, but that muggy afternoon as we held our church bags ready to get into our cars, he gave an unintentional sermon about caring for the forgotten, about how he was once the forgotten wondering if the world would simply pass him by without another thought.  He said he’d read that letter from a cousin still in prison and realized just how easy it is to forget, or better yet, not even think of the people we cannot see or hear.

Vince’s speech did not contain any of the familiar language of the mormon commitment pattern, or even a final crescendo of pathos to move me to action, he just simply ended, crying a little with the letter firmly in his hands. My children hungry and yelling in their carseats, me wiping unexpected tears from my cheeks, and all I could think to say was, “Vince, will you find me some names of women I can write?”

I have not seen Vince for a few weeks, but tonight Jack sent me two names of women who have requested correspondence from prison.  In the message Jack gave the two names and said simply, “We don’t know anything about them. Your letters are expected though.”

The gospel of Christ a place where we know so little, except the fact that there are people, both seen and unseen, who are expecting us to find them and offer what we can, and in turn, will warm us when we are cold.  I am also the one in need of finding, sometimes if even from my own selfishness or ease.

I don’t know what I will write these women, it’s likely they are far more brave and strong than me, but to be counted on for a few words in a lonely time, that I can do.  It’s been given me countless times by people like Jack, my mother, Vince, my home teacher, my visiting teachers, so many people who did not have to give, but did anyway.

I have two names tonight, I will take a step toward them in the form of a letter. It is so small a gesture, but if you are reading this, I want to encourage you to also take a small step toward someone who is forgotten, or at least believes that they are.

And whatever else is wrong in religion, in policy, in pride and myopic antics, there is this: We don’t know anything about them.  Your letters are expected though.

Comments

  1. There’s so much that’s right about Mormonism in this. Thanks, Ashmae.

  2. A Happy Hubby says:

    Oh how I wish things like this were more common. It seems more “real” than making up not-so-needed service projects for people that are in orders of magnitude less dire.

  3. Ashmae, can I have a name to write to? I want to do this.

  4. John Mansfield says:

    Talking with a member of my ward whose son would return in a few months from a proselyting mission, I said that it didn’t seem like so long since he had left. The father countered that it had felt like a long time to him, and he shared a saying of his wife’s: “Other people’s missions and pregnancies are short.” That probably applies to prison sentences as well. For instance, an old high school friend, who murdered his four-year-old son and was sentenced in ’94 to life without parole, was somehow released on parole eight years ago.

  5. What an inspiring post. Thank you.

  6. Great post. That is pure religion.

  7. Taylor has been writing one of Vince’s friends, and every letter is so sincere in its gratitude for a connection to someone outside the prison. I was skeptical at first that the letters wouldn’t be welcome or that they would feel awkward communicating to someone they didn’t know, but at least this individual was immediately grateful and willing to talk openly with a stranger.

  8. Laura Pratt says:

    I just shared this with a friend, and we both had the same reaction – we want to write letters. How can we find some women to write to?

  9. Laura, I am going to talk with Jack and Vince and see if we can get more names. I know there are plenty of women who want to correspond. Want to shoot me an email at ashmae.hoiland@gmail.com and we can figure it out from there? thank you!

  10. Tracy, same with you!

  11. Powerful stuff, ashmae. Thank you.

  12. Ashmae, Anyone striving to be a Matthew 25 Christian inspires me. You have moved me to do likewise, and I thank you.

  13. Thanks for sharing this. It reminds me of going home teaching with my dad. Yes, I had the kind of dad who would take his daughter home teaching with him when he needed a companion. One night he took me up into the hills above our house and we visited with a man. We stood in his front yard and talked. It grew darker, yet outside we stayed. Later in the car my dad told me that he’d not ever been inside this mans home, but at least he let my dad visit. Years later I asked about that man and my dad told me he’d gone to prison for drug dealing. My dad wrote him and occasionally sent him books to read or treats. I was so impressed with my dad.

    All this to say, your getting names for others to write is great. I suspect, though, that we all have a jail or prison in our area filled with people who would like a letter. Maybe there’s someone there from our own neighborhood or ward. It might be worth making the effort to find someone in our own corner to write.

  14. I really appreciate it when a gifted writer can recognize that a moment of personal experience has broad application, and then manages to show that to us. Thanks, ashmae.

  15. Grandparents are often alone. The elderly are often forgotten. Especially those without children. But I think those with children and grandchildren who ignore them might possibly feel worse.